Texas Film Festivals: a new stop for international cinema

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In 2011, the Lone Star Film Festival screened the French-made film “The Artist.” The black and white, mostly silent, film went on to win several Academy Awards, including “Best Picture.” Texas Festivals like Lone Star are grabbing national attention as launching pads for international artists.

MovieMaker Magazine declared this festival one of the top 50 festivals worth the entry fee in 2013 stating that it “seeks to champion and discover emerging filmmakers.” In fact, several Texas festivals made the list, including Fantastic Fest, the Oak Cliff Film Festival, Victoria TX Independent Film Festival and World Fest Houston.

Dallas VideoFest and the Austin Film Festival screened several foreign and foreign-language films this year. Filmmakers came from all across the globe including Italy, Latin America, and even New Zealand.

Bringing the world to Texas

It’s not easy being an independent filmmaker in the U.S. According to Filmslate.com, the struggle lies in creating a product that has a broad enough appeal that will catch the eye of distributors. Add to the challenge of writing in a foreign language and gathering enough funds and resources to film in a non English-speaking country. Filmmakers Kelly Daniela Norris and Tom Sanchez did just that and made it to the Austin Film Festival.

Norris wrote her characters in a place she had only seen and read about in travel magazines. “Sombras de Azul” is a story about a Mexican woman who travels to Cuba.

“I referred to a lot of travel guides and maps of Havana as I was creating the story,” Norris says. “The actual locations became very familiar to me before I even got there.”

AUSTIN, TX (Oct. 26, 2013) Rodrigo Viaggio and Nataniel Sanchez experience their first time in the U.S. while promoting their film "La Navaja de Don Juan." The Peruvian film was screened at the Austin Film Festival. (Photo by Liz Casanova, CafeConCine.com editor)
AUSTIN, TX (Oct. 26, 2013) Rodrigo Viaggio and Nataniel Sanchez experience their first time in the U.S. while promoting their film “La Navaja de Don Juan.” The Peruvian film was screened at the Austin Film Festival. (Photo by Liz Casanova, CafeConCine.com editor)

Sanchez was born in Lima, Peru but also had challenges going back to make his film “La Navaja de Don Juan.” He wanted make a film about Peru that wasn’t about terrorism or the ruins.

“Not too many films, besides Peruvian films, happen in Peru.  So I wanted to try to do something that would do well in Peru and also get noticed [in the U.S.],” Sanchez says.

Italian cinema still pushing the industry

The recent passing of director Carlo Lizzani reminded the film world of the influence Italian filmmakers have in cinema. From Federico Fellini to Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, Italy is the birthplace of many of the world’s most groundbreaking filmmakers.

Lizzani did work with Rossellini as a screenwriter, according to the London Times. They experimented with Neo-Realism, and engaged in a movement that was a “more naturalistic portrayal of society.”

Fast-forward to 2013, and the experimental tradition continues with an independent film called “Handy.” Italian filmmaker Vincenzo Cosentino wanted to make a film that was “different” because he wanted his work to stand out form other films. “Handy” is a story about a hand that detaches itself from its owner and goes off into the world to find himself.

AUSTIN, TX (Oct. 27, 2013) Italian director Vincenzo Cosentino (left) describes how he gave life to his "Handy" characters. Consentino wrote and directed the film as well as created all the costumes and special effects. (Photo by Liz Casanova, CafeConCine.com editor)
AUSTIN, TX (Oct. 27, 2013) Italian director Vincenzo Cosentino (left) describes how he gave life to his “Handy” characters. Consentino wrote and directed the film as well as created all the costumes and special effects. (Photo by Liz Casanova, CafeConCine.com editor)

In a previous Café Con Cine report, Cosentino said that his short film grabbed the attention of “Django” actor Franco Nero. The budget was small, the costumes hand-made by Cosentino. He described how each frame took about 45 to 50 hours to create.

“I know people will remember me and say ‘oh, he’s that guy with the movie about the hand.’” Cosentino says.

“Handy” had its world premiere at the Austin Film Festival.

The distribution game

Independent filmmaker Terry Green explains the difficulties of his profession in Filmmaker Magazine. He describes why filmmaking is only “half the battle.” The other half is getting distribution. Many of the larger festivals select films that already have distribution pushing ultra-low budget films out of the game. According to Green, studios have found a way to “usurp the independent film movement.”

DALLAS, TX (Sept. 29, 2013) Mexican actor Jamie Camil is seranated by an all-female mariachi at Komali restaurant. Camil came to Dallas to promte his bilingual film "Pulling Strings." Dallas has become a hotspot for Latin and Spanish-speaking talent.
DALLAS, TX (Sept. 29, 2013) Mexican actor Jamie Camil is serenaded by an all-female mariachi at Komali restaurant. Camil came to Dallas to promote his bilingual film “Pulling Strings.” Dallas has become a hotspot for Latin and Spanish-speaking talent.

Crystal Decker is media and film exhibition manager for Texas-based Well Go USA Entertainment, a film company that distributes mostly Asian films. Decker is the face of her company during film festival season. But the acquisitions game is usually not what people think it is.

“I learned this quick, and it was a surprise because, coming from festivals, I had a misconception of how deals work,” Decker says.

She says that it is rare Well Go acquires films they’ve never heard at during the festivals.

“By the time feet are on the ground at a fest, deals are already in progress,” Decker says.

This is because companies like Well Go have already gone through hundreds of films a year seeking distribution.

However, foreign and foreign-language films are getting plenty of attention from critics and are pushing more companies to consider them. Indiewire compiled a list of films distributors should consider that were screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. The list includes the Mexican film “Club Sandwich,” “Moebius” from Korea, “R100” from Japan, “Story of My Death” from Spain and even a film made in Yucatan, Mexico called “La Ultima Pelicula.”

According to The Guardian, there is a rise in blockbuster international films, a market that scarcely existed before the mid 2000s. But there has been a wave of international blockbusters coming from Latin America, Asia, Australia and even Africa.

Some believe that the introduction of movie streaming companies like Netflix, Hulu and Blockbuster Online have helped grow the international market.

“Technology has rocked the landscape,” Decker says. “It’s easier to make films, and now, you can watch a film pretty much anywhere you want.”

Sounding off on Texas film festivals

The fall and winter film festivals are the last stop before awards season or distribution. Three Texas film festivals that stockpile foreign and foreign-language films are Dallas VideoFest, Austin Film Festival and the Lone Star Film Festival. These particular festivals are unique because they focus on different aspects of the craft.

Dallas VideoFest artistic director Bart Weiss, looks for documentaries, experimental and international films that aren’t picked up anywhere else.

The Austin Film Festival is considered is called the “writer’s festival” and focuses on storytelling.

The Lone Star Film Festival in Fort Worth screens many films that go on to win awards. And this festival also brings international films to Texas. Last year Lone Star showed the Dutch film “A Royal Affair,” “Aqui y Alla” from Mexico, “Caeser Must Die,” from Italy and the German thriller “Barbara.”

The Lone Star Film Society page says the mission is to “bring to Fort Worth films that might otherwise be overlooked.”

What festival programmers have in common is that they are always looking for films that are original.

Want more behind-the-scenes? Follow some of my favorite interactive exchanges with filmmakers and industry movers and shakers!

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